Food in Provence: Reviews

Sitting down to a decadent lunch at Dan B., the Table de Ventabren, in Ventabren, Provence, France. August 21, 2019.

Sitting down to a decadent lunch at Dan B., the Table de Ventabren, in Ventabren, Provence, France. August 21, 2019.

You might find it difficult to visit Provence and find bad food.

At least, we didn’t find much I’d categorize as disappointing, though we enjoyed some of our restaurant forays more than others—and some of the local specialties we tried more than others as well. In the reviews below, I’ve included only our recommended spots; the one or two places we wouldn’t visit again, I didn’t include in this write-up.

For more detailed overview of these areas (and these restaurants beyond simply the gastronomic experiences), visit my article on Aix-and-Provence and its environs, my article on the Luberon, and my article on Avignon and the Pont du Gard.

Destination Restaurants

Wherever you perch in Provence, you should make a pilgrimage to one of these two destination restaurants in the region—even if you need to drive an hour to get there.

Yes, you’ll find them special enough to make the trek worth the pain.

  • Restaurant Dan B. in Ventabren (aka La Table de Ventabren): If you stay in any of the major cities in the Bouches-du-Rhône region, you’ll still have a drive to get to Restaurant Dan B. Our multicourse menu started with a deconstructed fish soup, continued with a tomato and “tomato” salad course in which real tomatoes combined with tomato sorbets to burst with delicious freshness on the palate, and continued into heavenly mains and cheeses and a dessert concoction I can’t even describe other than to say it featured white chocolate and I could have eaten at least one more serving.

  • La Table de Pablo in Villars: Tucked down in a valley in a region where all the towns seem to nestle in the mountain peaks, this restaurant will require a drive from no matter where you stay in the Luberon. Regardless, make the trip—just reserve your place well in advance, as the chef runs the entire restaurant solo, from the bookings, through to the sourcing and cooking, all the way to the serving. We requested the four-course experience, for which we received no menu—just whatever the chef decided to cook that evening. (We did get to choose whether we wanted “land” or “sea” as a main course.) Each dish, a gastronomic feat, maintained the level of taste and skill of the course before it—all of them fantastic.

Eat Here if You Go There

Though most of the restaurants we visited wouldn’t make for destination spots, several made our visits to parts of Provence a lot more lovely for their food, atmosphere, and service.

If you end up in any of these little towns and need a meal or a snack, we recommend these options.

  • L’Arôme in Bonnieux: Run by the chef and his wife, this delicious restaurant tucked down a winding street has a shaded outdoor terrace and a vaulted, cellar-style dining room inside. We enjoyed every course we tried on the three-course menu, with Arnaud most strongly recalling his risotto starter. I recommend you not miss the cheese-course dessert option.

  • Restaurant L’Essentiel in Avignon: Rarely will you find such a delicious restaurant so close to a city’s main tourist locations. This chic yet casual restaurant hides just down a short staircase from the Palais des Papes. I enjoyed my cod main dish in its light lemony broth and Arnaud remembers well his lemon tart dessert. Ask to sit in the interior courtyard, if you arrive on a pretty day.

  • Jardin Mazarin in Aix-en-Provence: On one of the corners of a dolphin-fountained square in the Jardin Mazarin you’ll find this elegant restaurant with its cool, quiet interior. Arnaud and I decided on the same three courses for our set-menu lunch, all of which we enjoyed—from the fresh mozzarella starter to the roast duck in a cherry sauce and on through the cheese course.

  • L’Ouvre Boîte in Arles: This tiny little café situated in a small courtyard offers a limited menu of small plates to share. We ordered three, including a squid dish and an eggplant item. Though tasty and undeniably fresh, the portions come small—if we’d known, we would have ordered one or two more dishes. Stop in for a refreshing snack or plan to order more than you think you need.

  • Le Petit Verdot in Aix-en-Provence: This casual, homey wine bar and cafe serves hearty Provençal fare—all of it fresh and caringly presented. You can eat at one of the small interior tables or at tables along the street outside the restaurant. Arnaud started his meal with the frog legs because he felt strongly that I needed to try them, having married a French man as I did. I devoured my roasted lamb (a house specialty).

  • Le Renaissance in Gordes: Though we ventured into it with some skepticism, given this restaurant’s prime situation in a heavily touristed square in the center of the town, the fare and the service pleasantly surprised us—as did the playlist of Ray Charles classics. My roast chicken and salad came plentiful and delicious, and Arnaud enjoyed the rich flavors of his beef carpaccio with fries.

Regional-Treat Reviews

In addition to lavender—which you can, indeed, eat—Provence has several tastes and treats that it considers either local tradition or exclusively fantastic in this part of France.

We couldn’t possibly try them all, but we ate what we could.

  • Calissons d’Aix: You’ll see these bite-sized, diamond-shaped, candy-cookie-hybrid treats all over Aix and the areas around Aix, which markets them as a traditional regional delicacy. Though they looked processed out of tastiness, Arnaud and I felt obliged to try them. We bought the smallest box we saw (of four). Composed of icing sugar and fruit syrup piled on a thin wafer base with ground almonds holding it all together, the calisson delivers an intense sugar hit. We didn’t buy another box.

  • Farinoman Fou in Aix-en-Provence: We can’t exactly call a French bakery a regional treat of Provence, yet good bakeries get harder and harder to find these days—even in France. Our guidebook said that this bakery would tempt us to sell up and relocate to Aix, so we had to visit. (And hey, I can think of worse places to move.) Though the bakery shuttered for vacation over most of our stay in Aix, we did sneak in one visit on our first night in town. The whole-grain bread we selected had a delicious tang and kept its freshness well into day two. (Also, we treated ourselves to a tender and not-too-sweet almond cookie. Yum.)

  • Scaramouche in Céreste: My ice-cream-fanatic husband—who ate ice cream multiple times across our travels through Provence—said the ice cream at Scaramouche made the one-hour drive to Céreste worth it. He had a scoop of chocolate, a scoop of chestnut, and a scoop of one of their signature flavors, 1001 Nights (a light ice cream base with eastern spices and slivered almonds), in a waffle cone. Ice cream lovers should make a pilgrimage.

Provence Means Food

You can’t go to Provence and expect not to eat—though you can at least rest assured that your feasts will have full flavor.

Honestly, we didn’t have a truly bad meal anywhere in our travels through the region. (Although, true, some of the restaurants we visited didn’t make our list.)

We vacationed in Provence in late August, after the lavender had come out of the fields yet while the copious local fruits and vegetables still had volumes of sun-warmed flavor. Though the food will undoubtedly change depending upon the season you visit, I have the strong impression that Provençal dishes will always deliver strong taste and style.